Thursday, August 21, 2008

On Worship

In the Presbyterian System, “the Reformed Tradition,” as it is called, worship consists of these “elements”: Adoration (Praise), Confession of Sin, Assurance of Pardon, Thanksgiving, Declaration of Faith, an Offering, Proclamation of the Word, Response to the Word Proclaimed with Prayers of Intercession and Petition, Song, and Service. Worship is also “corporate,” something we all do together, and “regular,” that is “weekly.” You schedule it. Dress for it. Know when it starts and stops. And, it better stop on time.

I, of course, have a different idea. Worship is what knocks you off your feet with awe and wonder. Worship is a visceral experience, a “whole body” kind of thing. Which, of course, makes sex a lot more like worship than anything that happens on Sunday morning. You can’t plan worship, in spite of the fact that all over the country “worship teams” spend an inordinate amount of time planning worship each week. You can’t set it up before hand. You can’t check off the “elements” one by one and say you have worshipped when the benediction is spoken.

Worship comes out of nowhere to wake you up with amazement and surprise. You encounter that which connects you at the level of the heart with the heart of life itself. The first thing that goes is your sense of time. There is no “order of worship.” You do not know what is next, or care. The moment—the now—opens into eternity, and that magical hot dog vendor in Chicago, or is it New York, or Boston, has “made you one with everything.” There are no words for the experience. It cannot be “said.” Or duplicated. Or arranged. You have been transformed by connection with a power beyond your power to produce either the connection or the transformation. And, you can only acknowledge, with humility and wonder, the Beyond to which we sense we somehow belong.

The experience may be corporate, but some standing there may hear only thunder and miss the angels speaking. The experience of worship depends exclusively upon eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that understand. With those eyes, ears, and hearts in place, worship is everywhere, all the time. Without them, worship is nowhere, ever. But some experiences can be so overwhelmingly worshipful as to produce the eyes, ears, and hearts necessary for the perception of the experience among all but the very dead.

Worship wakes us up to the reality at the heart of life, to the truth of the Beyond to which we belong. It rarely ever happens on a Sunday morning. On Sunday mornings, we can remember it happening, and remind ourselves that it can happen, and underscore the importance of engaging in the practices, the disciplines, of developing eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to understand. We can do what we can do to prepare ourselves for worship, but the experience itself comes upon us from Beyond.

 Worship can no longer be something we do to, for, or about God, as though God is Up There and is capable of being appeased, or placated, or mollified, or influenced, or swayed, or captivated by our prostrations and petitions. We can gather to remember that we are not alone, to remind ourselves that there is more to us than meets the eye, to open ourselves to the wonder and awe of the mystery of being, to enhance and deepen the connection that exists among us and between us and all sentient beings, to be present with what is present with us, and to participate in life as those who are interested in finding the way rather than finding the ways to have their way.

It is an amazing process, this “harmonization of being,” wherein we take the givens of our lives and turn them into what they might become—without making our personal gain or advantage the focus and goal of our living. And, we are right to sing out with joy and gladness at the wonder of life, living, and being alive, and aware, and awake, and open to the process and participation in it. But, we don’t have to posit an intelligent, invisible, personal, and personable, creator and director of the process—a divine Who, who has to be pleased or else. We can if we want to, but it isn’t required.

The point of being who we are is to be awake and alive. The point of being awake and alive is to be who we are. The point is not esoteric. It is very practical. We are to wake up, and be alive, and be who we are. This can be done only in relationship with those who also are waking up, coming to life, and being who they are. This is the spiritual task, and the spiritual community.

It is spiritual because it connects us with an essence that cannot be seen, or touched, or weighed, or measured, yet is sensed as real and present and compelling. The line between who we are and who we are not is a spiritual line. When we are being who we are, we are connecting with the spirit of “us.” We are being spirit-of-us-filled. We are being spiritual.

Whether or not there is some Great Spirit beyond us with plans, and purposes, and dreams, etc., is, well, beyond us. We can speculate and ponder, imagine and wonder, but we know our spirit, our heart, our self (And where does that line lie?) comes alive in certain times, and places, and circumstances, and activities, and in the presence of certain people—and dies in certain others. Our work is to bring our spirit to life in our lives. We must be who we are. We cannot be who we are not. Our task, or one of them, is to help each other find and be who we are, and not be who we are not.

Worship, then, for me, has to do with realization and recognition. It is the acknowledgement of, and the alignment of ourselves with, the Way of Being, the Way of Life. It is the Wow of Oneness, of All-ness, of Thou Art That-ness. It is what we do in response to our perception of our connection with each other and the living, vibrant core of life and being. Worship, in this sense, is the term for the lives of those who are awake, aware and alive.



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